Sunday, May 21, 2017

Are we getting somewhere?

Ben presenting the new computer
We began this week in the villages and ended in the city of Zaporozhye.  The villages we started in were in south Molotchna down by the Juschanlee River.  We went to the Cornies Juschalee estate to give a computer to a very small girl who has a very big heart.  11-year-old Alona attends the school in Kirovo and needs a laptop computer to do her schoolwork. We have never been asked to help with anything for this school.  One of the teachers heard about our work and approached us about helping Alona.  The school principal, Natasha, was delighted that we could do this, and we think that "little Alona"  may possibly have opened a big door for the school.  Normally children with special needs do not go to school but stay at home and get a part-time tutor.  Alona wanted none of that; she wanted to go to school, and her mother takes her every day.

After leaving an ecstatic Alona, we went off to see the Reimer estate in Juschanlee.  Time is certainly taking its toll on the estate buildings.

Gatepost at the Reimer estate
The large former Reimer house is looking pretty rough, and currently serves as an ambulatory clinic.  This is not the only former Mennonite building that is showing its years. Many of the villages in Molotchna are getting smaller and older.  Schools such as the one in Udarnik (Neukirch) are closed.  The roads between the villages aren't getting any better, and many villages don't have any store at all.

In Udarnik we were fortunate to find the former school principal and the history teacher while we were in the village.  Nikolai, the former school principal, is now the maintenance man, keeping up the school yard and building.  Anatoli, the history teacher, is retired.  Here is a picture of Anatoli sitting in our
VW van, avoiding the rain and showing his
Anatoli reviewing the history of the village of  Udarnik
memoirs of the village to Ruth Derksen-Siemens and Oksana Bratchenko.  Anatoli has done a lot of work in keeping records of the Mennonite story in the Juschanlee south Molotchna villages.  His familiarity with German helps him in reviewing documents.

Zaporozhye gives an entirely different feel than the villages in Molochansk.  The city is bustling with restaurants, shops, and crowded streets.  One of our big projects in Zaporozhye is helping integrate children with special needs into the regular school system.  Just as Alona from Kirova wants to go to school, so do the autistic children in the Prometei program.  We are working with education and government officials to increase state funding for special needs children in schools.  After a letter and some phone calls, we were granted a meeting with the Governor of the Zaporozhye Oblast (state) to promote a conference we are having with state psychiatrists.  The Governor gave us 45 minutes of his very busy schedule and said that they would be sending senior officials to the conference.  We were delighted. This is not the first time Mennonite groups have worked with the state in this area to improve education opportunities for special needs children.  The Maria school for the Deaf and Mute in Tiege was built in 1890 and was a model school for deaf and mute children throughout the Russian empire. The work at Prometei continues that noble tradition.  On the way to Tiege in the Orlovo area, we passed the memorial monument to the 131 deaf and mute children who were killed by the Nazis in WWII.  It is a tribute to Ukrainians in this area in that they
In memory of the 131 children
wanted a monument to remember the children.  At the top of this monument is a bell that rings in the wind.  Etched around and near top of the monument are children's faces.   The chiming bell reminds us of the children.

Ben joining the children at Prometei
During this week we visited many schools and continued to focus on English classes.  All schools are required to teach English in grade 1.  By the fifth grade, the children can opt to learn German or French.  We have noticed that English is understood more frequently in stores and restaurants.  The challenges for teachers seems to be to move from learning the rules of English to becoming comfortable in speaking English.

We believe you as donors are making a significant impact in this area of Ukraine.  Young people are excited about their future.  The economy is starting to grow.  We want to continue to intervene in critical areas where we can really make a difference in the lives of people and in their country.  

Thanks for your support,
Ben and Lil

To contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, you can make your donation to “Friends of the Mennonite Centre”.  All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Road, Beamsville, ON, L0R 1B1.
If  you wish to donate online, go to the website, key in “Mennonite Centre Ukraine”, and click on the Search button.  Then click on “V” for “View”, and “P” for “Profile”.  Then “Donate now”.
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We thank you,

Ben and Lil Stobbe


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